The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are playing just about a home game as they “host” the Miami Hurricanes in the Walk On’s Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA. The Hurricanes and Bulldogs face off on December 26th at 4pm eastern time on ESPN.
La Tech finished the regular season with a record of 9-3 and an SP+ ranking of 67th overall. The Bulldogs were ranked 80th in offense, 62nd in defense, and 70th in the kicking game. Miami finished the regular season 6-6 and 26th per the SP+. Bill Connelly’s metric has the ‘Canes offense ranked 73rd, the defense ranked 13th and the kicking game 85th.
La Tech ranked 23rd in points per play while Miami finished 82nd. Blake Baker and Manny Diaz are going to get a well rounded, high scoring offense that has a lot to prove as a Group of 5 squad. Head Coach Skip Holtz failed at South Florida but he’s cooking again down in Ruston. As the leader of the Bulldogs, Holtz has posted a 55-36 record including trips to six straight bowl games. Oh, and La Tech is 5-0 in bowl games heading into their showdown next week.
Players and Stats
Louisiana Tech has a dynamic quarterback in J’mar Smith. Smith completed 65.8% of his passes and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt in 2019. He also threw 17 touchdowns with only four interceptions and added three more scores on the ground. He’s joined in the backfield by running back Justin Henderson (great name!). Henderson ran for 967 yards and 15 scores on 5.8 yards per carry in ‘19.
Wide receivers Isiah Graham and Griffin Herbert averaged 20.2 and 18.3 yards per catch, respectively. Those are big play threats that can get behind Miami’s cornerbacks if they aren’t tight in their coverage and technique. They also combined for 10 touchdowns through the air. Six-foot-three, 215 pound receiver Malik Stanley brought down 37 balls for a team lead 574 yards in an offense that had eight players catch the ball 10 or more times.
Safety L’Jarius Sneed led the Bulldogs defense in tackles with 72 tackles and was runner-up in interceptions with three. He’s joined on the defense by Will Baker, a rush end slash outside linebacker who logged 10 tackles for loss as a havoc player. Defensive end Milton Williams added another 54 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, and cornerback Amik Robertson is undersized but logged 60 tackles, eight tackles for loss and led the team in interceptions with five.
In Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense, guys have to be flexible to play out in space as coverage linebackers but also come down hard on runs, blitzes, and option plays. Diaco ran this scheme at Notre Dame and Nebraska, too. Diaco has been around and served as an assistant at Cincinnati under Brian Kelly, but also at Oklahoma and Virginia- both of which have ran his 3-4 style in the past.
Fear the deep shot?
Manny Diaz and Blake Baker didn’t feel a desperate need to go after cornerbacks for the 2020 early signing class but it’s been clear that DJ Ivey, Al Blades Jr. and Trajan Bandy have had their ups and downs in 2019. As regular readers know, I’m a huge Bandy fan, but Miami has been lost at times in coverage and could blame some new blood starting at safety but the cornerbacks haven’t been great, either.
In the Phil Longo vein, the Bulldogs like to take deep shots off of play-action passes. The GIF below is no different. Will a La Tech receiver get past Miami’s cornerbacks? I personally think the “speed” at Miami is vastly overrated. The Hurricanes haven’t played as fast as they allegedly have ran in practice or on the track. If The Bulldogs can protect for Smith, this could be an issue for the ‘Canes.
Attacking the middle
One thing I like about the La Tech offense is that they like to attack the middle of the field in the red zone. I’ve expressed my feelings on the red zone fade (read here) in the past, I’m anti-fade unless it’s 1st or 2nd down and you have a giant receiver with a great vertical jump.
La Tech had just motioned the right slot across the field before this GIF starts. The whip type route he runs takes away two defenders and opens a window behind him. The outside receiver attacks the goal post and catches the touchdown.
Defenses are built to bring pressure inside the 10 yard line and play cover 0 man behind it. Getting your receivers into the middle of the field will be advantageous because it will probably be open.
Some Run-Pass Options
Miami fans are clearly aware that Louisiana Tech might become a clearcut favorite to win the Walk On’s Bowl. With Jonathan Garvin and Michael Pinckney out, Blake Baker has finally moved Sam Brooks to start at Weak Side Linebacker after saying Mr. Pinckney didn’t play that position after the Georgia Tech fiasco. Nothing would’ve been more appropriate than starting the walk-on Ryan Ragone but the humor is lost on the Miami staff.
So what will the Bulldogs try to own against Miami? I would assume the interior where the ‘Canes have been weak and will only be weaker on the 26th. In the screenshot above, the QB is reading the defensive end. If the end plays the swing of the slot WR or the QB, the quarterback will give on the inside zone. If the defensive end squeezes to play the inside zone, the QB can throw the swing route. It’s a great RPO.
Diaco likes to keep you guessing and the Bulldogs are bringing pressure from all over in their 3-4 defense. That’s why so many players have tackles for loss and sacks. He’s creating havoc using well developed athletes. The hardest part for Miami will be identifying the blitzes, checking into pass protections, and having whatever QB wins the battle read the defense.
Best play to beat this? He’s hard to see but on the top of your screen is a tight end sitting really deep into his stance. Hit that TE on a post-corner and he’s hard to defend.
Iowa State’s tite front is a thing of lore at this point. The New England Patriots are running it, the SEC is running it, the Big 12 loves it. What is it? I covered it in a post back in August of this camp season (read that here) and it is in the screenshot below.
The 3 safety dime/tite front stuff is certainly way up there now - starting to see some NFL teams borrow it— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) October 9, 2019
Typically you’ll see the defensive line in a 3-0-3 which means a defensive tackle in a 3-technique or the outside shoulder of the guard, the nose tackle in a 0-technique or head up on the center, and another defensive tackle in a 3-technique, too. Below, La Tech is in a 5-0-3 because they are widening their flat defender out to the trips on the bottom of your screen. As that flat defender creeps into the LOS (line of scrimmage) that often tips you off that the 5-tech will then rip inside and the flat defender takes the C-gap.
Best play to beat this? I have a few ideas- but Smash (whip/corner) and mesh with a spot route are two great options.
Red Zone defense
Again, down in the red zone defensive coordinators star to go with cover 1 or cover 0. You know when Miami gets burned on little tight end dumps in the end zone? Typically that’s cover 0 and the linebackers are matched up on tight ends. In the screenshot below, you can see the defensive back chasing the motion man across the formation. That’s man coverage.
The five guys on the line are probably being tagged to come aggressively, and the linebackers are going to fill the inside gaps hard.
Best play to beat this? Could be Dan Enos’ RB screen from under center.
With no quarterback selected for the upcoming game and guys starting to opt out of the bowl, Miami is going to take a loss on the 26th. I’ll watch the game because I’ll be with my family and we’re ordering pizza and wings, but it could really be ugly. Navaughn Donaldson being out could actually help Miami because Jakai Clark and John Campbell actually seem better than Donaldson.
The issues will still be matching the scheme to the personnel and adapting to the QB they choose, the running back that starts now that Deejay Dallas is out, and the weak offensive tackles. Another adjustment will be on defense with a couple of starters sitting out of the bowl and an already down season as a program.
“All athletes want to be coached hard and loved” -Kurt Hester- pic.twitter.com/4vSHieqVcb— Erik Korem, PhD (@ErikKorem) February 23, 2019
Remember the name Kurt Hester? He was a rumored Strength and Conditioning Coach that Manny Diaz was looking into bringing to Coral Gables. Coach Hester has produced the most NFL draft picks from the G5 than any program, and was working with mostly two-star or less talent before the 2020 class. The Bulldogs have been successful under Holtz and much of the praise can come because of the S&C program ran at La Tech.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech by 10